Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Uncle Jack, Tia Maria and the Seacombe Ferry


My Mum’s dad was born in the East End of London and his father re-married when he was quite young. His step-mother was, apparently, the archetypal step-mother and when he was still a teenager he ran away to Liverpool. Nothing particularly remarkable about that except that he brought his two younger sisters (Alice and May) with him and looked after them in his new home town. Later his sister Janey also moved up to Liverpool. Aunty Alice never married and when I knew her she lived with Aunty May and her husband – Jack Pepper.

Uncle Jack was a pub landlord at various pubs around Liverpool including the Blue Anchor at Aintree and a pub in Commutation Row in the city centre which was subsequently named after him. When I first knew Uncle Jack and Aunty May they lived over a pub in Borough Road, Birkenhead, and I recall being there one evening and trying to convince him that what the Beatles were pushing out really was music. A similar evening over there I had my first alcoholic drink (apart from the odd medicinal brandy for a queasy stomach which I hated). It was a Tia Maria with cream – a drink I have loved from that day onwards.

Tia Maria is one of the world's most legendary liqueur spirits. The history of the drink can be traced back over 300 years to Jamaica in the Caribbean. In the mid 17th century when the island was in the grip of the brutal Colonial Wars, a beautiful Spanish noblewoman was forced to flee her home. In the chaotic flight, her maid had just enough time to safely snatch one of her mistress's most important family possessions - a tiny treasure box containing a pair of black pearl earrings and an old manuscript for a secret family recipe for a cordial. In her gratitude, the noblewoman named the rich dark drink 'Tia Maria' after her faithful maid. The legend came to light in the 1940s when Dr Kenneth Leigh Evans, a prominent scientist and gourmet was given the cordial to drink at dinner with friends. He fell in love with the intriguing taste and persuaded the family that it should be produced commercially. The lady of the house agreed provided the recipe remained a closely guarded secret. Produced by the industry giant Pernod Ricard through their Malibu-Kahlúa International subsidiary, Tia Maria is a "liqueur spirit" made in Jamaica using Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee beans. The main flavor ingredients are coffee beans, cane spirit, vanilla, and sugar.

Later in life, Uncle Jack, Aunty May and Aunty Alice retired to Magazine Brow in New Brighton. I used to cycle down to the Pier Head, get the Seacombe Ferry over the Mersey and ride along to New Brighton to visit them. By the time I was old enough to be doing that the New Brighton ferry had stopped running.

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